Sons and Daughters
By William Johnston
First Published November 1974
Published by Ballantine Books
The phenomenally prolific William Johnston strikes again. He wrote the novelization of Senior Year, a made-for-TV movie that served as the pilot for Sons and Daughters (which you can read more about here). Senior Year aired on CBS in March of 1974 while the weekly series, retitled Sons and Daughters, premiered in September and was canceled in October. So, by the time Ballantine Books published Johnston’s novelization of Senior Year, the television series it spawned had already been canned. For the record, the final episode aired on November 6th, 1974.
To me, the quick rise and fall of Sons and Daughters raises an interesting question about tie-in novels based on made-for-TV movies. It wasn’t uncommon during the 1970s for made-for-TV movies to be novelized, even those that were never intended to lead to a weekly series. But how did publishers and/or production companies decide which made-for-TV movies to novelize? Unless the turnaround on writing the novelization was incredibly quick, I assume William Johnston had several months to complete the final draft, plus several more months to get it ready for publication. That means he must have started writing it in early 1974 at the latest, perhaps even earlier.
If so, that means the decision to novelize Senior Year came before it was picked up by CBS. I’d be interested in learning whether the novelization was, in fact, ordered before the weekly series was picked up. Otherwise, someone must have thought a novelization of a potentially standalone made-for-TV movie would sell, and how those decisions were made is anybody’s guess.
I bought Sons and Daughters in order to compare it to the broadcast version of Senior Year, because the audio on the copy I have available is missing for the first eight minutes. As I recall, the novelization was similar to the television version but not identical. This could be due to William Johnston working from an early draft (Senior Year was written by M. Charles Cohen). Or perhaps he was expanding or adding scenes for dramatic effect. Either way, the novelization is more than a simple adaptation, although regrettably I don’t have any examples at hand.
The story of Sons and Daughters follows two high school students, Jeff and Anita, as their lives are torn apart. Jeff’s father dies of a heart attack, leaving him the man of the house. Anita, new to town, is shocked when she learns that her mother is having an affair, so imagine how she feels when her mother walks out on their family. All of this takes place just as their relationship is beginning and in the midst all the other stress and turmoil of being a teenager and being in high school.
There’s a scene in the novel, after Jeff’s father has died, when Jeff confronts his younger brother Danny about how he hasn’t been going to school or doing much of anything, and winds up hinting him. I can’t remember if this also takes place in the television version. Here’s an excerpt:
Jeff hit him. Without being fully aware of what he was doing, he swung widely and struck his brother across the side of the face with the back of his hand. The blow was a thwock! Danny lurched backward, fell over the chair from which he had just risen, then went crashing to the floor. He slid across the linoleum and stopped, sprawled, against the base of the counter.
That’s some blow, huh? Thankfully, Jeff hitting him was apparently just what Danny needed and he comes out of his stupor soon thereafter. As the novel ends, Jeff and Anita are surrounded by friends, driving off to deal with an unruly underclassman. It is high school, after all.